EL CAP REPORT 5/23/07
The Montana girls were going slowly yesterday, as you may recall, and I figured they would be lucky to make Dolt Tower by midnight, if they didn’t bail. The local odds have been running about 60/40 to fail for these ladies.
– from a Supertopo.com post
I pulled out of the final hand jam behind the Boot Flake, swung my feet around left onto the smooth face and hand traversed to a mantel onto the ledge on top of the giant flake. Finally, after I’d spent two days of aiding at a snail’s pace, free climbing on the Nose felt natural. Ashley jugged up to me, blue eyes wide. While I hauled our bags, she racked up for the King Swing.
A week earlier, Ashley and I had driven from Bozeman to Yosemite with a carload of new, used and borrowed wall gear, and trad-climbing backgrounds. We’d had so much fun on our first wall, Yosemite’s Leaning Tower, we decided to go for El Cap. Knowing it would be big for us, we racked up with six days of food and water.
“I’m a little nervous,” Ashley said now.
“You’ve got this, for sure,” I said, pushing myself away from the wall with my legs and throwing my body back to haul our bags.
“I’m excited, too.” She took a deep breath and continued rearranging gear.
“Hey, do you remember meeting Tom at the bridge in the meadow?” I asked.
“Yeah, the guy with the telescopes and camera.”
“Well, I got that weird feeling someone was watching me a minute ago. I wonder if it’s him and those guys at the bridge.”
“Really?” She smiled mischievously, turned to face out away from the wall and blew kisses to an imaginary crowd.
What we didn’t know was that Tom Evans, the unofficial El Cap watchdog and cheerleader we’d met the week before, had recently started a thread, the “El Cap Report,” on Supertopo.com. We knew he’d keep an eye on us, like all the teams on the wall, but we didn’t expect anyone would really follow our progress. We were slower than dehydrated tourists on the Yosemite Falls Trail, anyway, and had already spent two days on the first six pitches.
EL CAP REPORT 5/23/07
Nose: Several parties were making their way along the top half of the route today, with most topping out later in the day. When I arrived this morning, the Montana girls were climbing onto El Cap Tower. They didn’t bat an eye and went on to Texas Flake and then the Boot Flake. The girls looked strong!!
Later in the afternoon, Ashley went down to do the King Swing. They failed to get the proper beta, and things got interesting. A large crowd of local climbers, including some of our best, assembled at the bridge and watched the event unfold. Ashley started swinging a little high, and after a few tries realized it wasn’t working. She lowered to the correct spot, but didn’t run hard enough, so was fooled into thinking she was still too high. Down she went … way too low. She tried and tried, but was always 10 feet short of the corner when her momentum ceased and she was left skating on slick rock. The crowd was getting into it, and time was moving along.
After a half hour she came back up and started again from the correct place. With each attempt a cheer rose from the crowd, which turned into groans as she just missed and slipped back. There was much speculation on the outcome. Finally, she swung high up on the right wall, turned, and with a kick went racing through the bottom of the great arc and up the other side toward the top of her swing. She pedaled hard, but was slowing fast and missed the crack by inches… From the crowd arose a vast roar of encouragement, resounding around the valley, as she turned and sped back across the face, forcing herself far up onto the right wall, faster and higher than ever before. She hit the top, and in a moment turned to the left and took off pushing with all the force those tired legs could muster. Down through the arc she ran, driving hard in what was probably her last-ditch effort. The crowd was screaming at the top of its lungs as she dove for the crack and grabbed it at the apex of her reach … The crowd went wild!!
In that moment those women earned a new respect, and it has become a foregone conclusion that [they] are tough women who would rise to the occasion and would not be stopped on their quest for the ascent of El Capitan.
After the King Swing, I led the next two pitches, linking to the Grey Bands, and then climbed out a 5.7 traverse. Ashley lowered out our bags, but when I tried to haul them, they wouldn’t budge.
By the time we un-stuck and hauled the bags to the tiny sloping ledge 100 feet below Camp 4, stars were arcing out from behind the wall. It was 11:00 p.m., and we were exhausted. We devoured summer sausage on bagels and then collapsed into our sleeping bags, Ashley on the edge of the abyss, me clipped in tight to the anchor, legs in the belay chair.
EL CAP REPORT 5/24/07
Nose: Alright, Alright … I know … you want to hear about the Montana girls, right? After their spirited fight with the King Swing yesterday, we were all wondering just where the ladies would spend the night, as Camp 4 seemed a bit beyond reach for them. When I arrived at 10 a.m. they were hauling the bag to Camp 4, so I assume they spent the night on the little ledge after the pendulum into the Grey Bands. They went right on by Camp 4 and onto the Great Roof.
Afternoon sun warming my face, I dangled bare feet off the small ledge and leaned against the haul bag. We were even with the grassy terraces and ponderosa and sugar pines that tumbled across the top of Middle Cathedral Rock. Snacking on salty cheese and peanut-butter crackers, I slowly fed out rope as Ashley aided the Great Roof. In awe, I imagined the few climbers who’d freed this massive feature.
As I left, the girls were climbing Pancake Flake. They should reach Camp 5 tonight with a nicer ledge for a change!! The girls have turned out to be relentless, ass kicking, climbing machines … not fast but not faltering either. Go girls!
We were sleeping at Camp 5 when I woke to another climber’s call to his partner.
“Off belay, Brendan,” he yelled.
I looked at my watch—2 a.m. I rolled onto my belly and stuck my head over the edge. “How’re you guys doing?” I called down.
“Tired and thirsty.”
Ashley groaned, and then propped herself up on her elbow and reached for a water bottle.
A headlamp glowed 30 feet down in the corner.
“We have extra water, if you want some,” I said.
“Awesome. Are you a team of women?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“We heard you were up here.”
Although we’d heard cheers after Ashley got the King Swing, that seemed a little strange. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’re on Supertopo.”
Ashley and I looked at each other. Supertopo?
She laughed. “We’ve been up here, so long we’ve made it onto the topo! The slowest ascent in history has left the girls as fixed gear at Camp 5. Don’t forget to say hi to them as you pass by.’”
“No,” he said, his partner joining him. “Tom Evans has a new blog on Supertopo.com. So we knew you were up here. Is there room on that ledge?”
“I think there’s space above us,” I said. “Why are we on the blog?”
“I guess two women don’t usually come up here,” he said.
That, too, seemed strange. I imagined female teams climbed El Cap regularly. Why wouldn’t they?
“I think he’s writing about everyone, anyways.”
As the two climbed past us, shining headlamps in our faces, we handed them a gallon of water, a down coat and a bivy sack.
EL CAP REPORT 5/25/07
That’s about it for the Nose … Ha ha, got you, didn’t I … Don’t panic … I have the deal on the Montana girls … straight from the Captain’s Nose itself. I couldn’t see them all day, as I think they made Camp 5 for the night and were up and gone by the time this reporter arrived. I didn’t see them until I looked up and saw two teams lined up for the last pitch of the Nose. NICE stuff girls!!
Low on food, we joined the overtaking boys’ party. I hung from the final belay and looked down at the sweep of golden rock, the snaking twists of the Merced. We’d spent almost a week getting up the Captain, and I’d grown accustomed to living on it. I was disappointed we didn’t lead all the final pitches, but I’d learned something about patience: with myself, my partner and with the pace of life. I felt a lingering sadness reminiscent of the end of childhood summer vacation, but was also relieved to be done.
After dragging ourselves down the East Ledges in the dark, Ashley and I spent a lazy morning on the Valley floor. We stopped by a friend’s dorm room, and she mentioned the thread. “You should really look at it,” she said, raising her eyebrows.
We found the posts that afternoon. While the King Swing episode had us in tears of laughter, soon we stopped and just looked at each other. We were baffled by the attention we’d gotten as a team of beginners aiding the Nose. Although I thought friends might check on us from the meadow, I hadn’t considered we were climbing into a public arena.
Tom was thinking about it, too:
EL CAP REPORT 5/26/07
There will be no pics of people up close … If some creep wants a picture of someone, and all they have to do is look on my posts, then that’s not good … My pictures are intended to please and nothing else. I can tell you, however, the Montana girls are good looking, friendly, funny, smart young women that were a breath of fresh air here in the Valley!
While the blogs were intended in good humor, the notoriety they gave us initially embarrassed and frustrated me. How would you feel if you were learning to do something and found later you had been watched through a microscope? I wouldn’t have asked for observation, not beyond what I chose to share.
With a few weeks’ distance, though, I gained a broader perspective. I began to appreciate that Tom and all the climbers we’d met on the wall were also creating community, the same way we had in sharing water and bivy gear. If we’d had an accident, Tom would have quickly called for a rescue.
A month later I was climbing in Colorado and met a guy who’d also just been in Yosemite. I mentioned having climbed the Nose.
He looked at me again, and his eyes widened. “Hey!” he said. “You’re one of the Montana girls!”
Just before leaving the Valley, Emily Stifler climbed Half Dome’s Regular Northwest Face in a day. A writer, climber and ski patroller based in Bozeman, she has just completed an internship at Rock and Ice.
Some of the above quotes were condensed with permission of the poster.